UT medical students see the reality of everyday life in Haiti
By Christopher Gibson
Thomonde, HAITI–Today was another mobile clinic day. Both the location and population were distinct from yesterday – the community was more remote with more agricultural activity, and the people primarily sought water from nearby rivers.
Their requests were also more basic. Yesterday, people asked for better constructed houses and more accessible healthcare; today people requested roads and, because they had none whatsoever, latrines topped the list. Nevertheless, we still encountered the same warm and embracing spirit from each and every patient.
One woman in her twenties was hurried into the OB-GYN clinic, interrupting another consultation. After a quick but thorough examination, she was found to be in the early stages of labor. All signs showed a healthy pregnancy, without complications. Her progression was slow, so the doctor suggested she stay the rest of the day for observation, with the intention that we would bring her to the hospital in town for her baby’s birth later in the day. We were surprised when she kindly refused the offer, citing that she had two children at home to care for while her husband was out of the country. She said she would simply have her child at home.
This story reminded us of a 15-month-old girl we saw yesterday. It only took a few moments to realize that she was not as mentally developed as one would expect someone of her age to be. She was unable to hold up her head on her own, was constantly drooling, and yet was the happiest, most delightful child. Her mother told us she had been born at home, breach, and had never before been seen by a doctor. The family seemed joyful and content, but we found ourselves wondering how her situation might be different had she been born under the care and expertise of a hospital staff.
Another patient who captured our hearts today was a 20-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome, a condition we were told is rare in Haiti. He was lighthearted while in the Triage line, laughing and playing as our staff took his blood pressure and other vitals. To our dismay, those around him had a starkly different attitude, mocking him and seeing only what they considered to be an idiot. When in the medical room, his mother appeared oppressive, not allowing him to partake in the interview and quickly taking from him the only thing that seemed to brighten his spirits at the time – a bottle of bubbles. A Haitian physician explained to us that this attitude towards children with special needs is common, and their lack of prevalence leaves their condition widely misunderstood.
These people’s stories shine light on the cultural and medical differences we in the United States have grown accustomed to and the realities of everyday life in Haiti. At times, we fall into the routine of treating colds, worms, and loss of vision; we send the patients off with a prescription and fail to recognize the complexities that brought them to that illness. Patients like those mentioned above bring us back to why we have decided to come to Haiti to provide care. Difficult choices have to be made between seeking routine health care and tending to other basic needs. The life that people would optimally like to create for themselves and their families isn’t always a viable option. And yet, our hearts are filled with hope, as the difficulties they face never seem to bring down the Haitian peoples’ spirit. It is this spirit that brings us to these clinics and calls us to continue to do what we can do help the Haitians achieve the life they envision for themselves.